My 2019 AGU talks

AGU is a conference held in December each year, about a week before Christmas. AGU stands for American Geophysical Union. It’s more interesting than it sounds, promise! Usually it’s held in San Francisco. I’ve been a couple of time.

This past December, I had three talks at AGU. Two were invited. I felt very special.

To get to AGU, I first took the train from Houston to Los Angeles. It was a very nice train — and it didn’t take so long — and look at all the pretty things I saw along the way.

Then from Los Angeles, I took mostly an overnight bus north. Overnight so I wouldn’t waste a day traveling. The bus literally does run all night long, and at long last, just after sunrise (it was winter, so the sunrise was kind of late), we arrived in San Francisco. I stayed for a week, gave my 3 talks, and it was great.

My talks were all about my Animations with Kids program. For the second talk, I got to show everyone how I teach the kids 3D animation.

How the WIRED summer went

After our fellowship was done, we were all flown back to D.C., and we had a “poster fair”. All of us fellows who had been placed at newsrooms pasted and arranged our articles on posters, and then we had some very nice and supportive guests tell us what a good job we had all done.

My poster:


And then all of us fellows spent the rest of the two-day “wrap-up” sessions joking, giggling, eating, and having each other’s back. It was great.

Now that it’s all done, here in no particular order are the stand-out moments as a AAAS media fellow:

1. We gave each other certificates for “superlative awards” (like what you do in high school year books), and one of the fellows brought along her childhood sticker collection to decorate the certificates with. They came out looking glittery and glamorous!

2. I got to email, call, and interview people at the Sweden UN office. I also talked to someone at the Swedish consulate.

3. And I got to interview the presenters of an Arabic science show that I’ve watched for years!

4. Seeing my name on the WIRED home page, my name coupled with the article I wrote. It never got old

5. Biking across the Golden Gate bridge.

6. Writing my favorite article of all, which was full of good people, quiet, storied forests, and voices that are heard less often.

7. Writing about Sweden, Arabs, and North Carolina (in three separate articles)

8. The apartment I sublet in Berkeley, with the attic bedroom where you can climb out the window onto the roof, and sit and read in the sunshine

9. The Ghirardelli ice cream store right by my train stop

10. Emailing most any scientist, activist, or natural resource worker and having them be eager to get back to me and be interviewed by me (though this did not extend to government people, especially in Maryland)

Sweden in Berkeley

All the Swedish things you can find in Berkeley, California:

1. Bokmärken: Bokmärken are little pictures that little kids collect. They’re like stickers, without the sticky part on the back. They can be flowers, or maybe toys, animals, angels, and during Christmas you can get Santa Claus ones. If you’re lucky, you can find glitter ones. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with them, other than accumulate as many as you can. After all these years in the US, I finally have found some – at Payn’s Stationary Store in Berkeley. They had whole stacks!


And then,  I found more at a store called Twig and Fig. However, it was going out of business.

2. Carl Larsson: This is a famous Swedish painter from back in the day. They sell letter-writing cards with his paintings on them in the stationary stores in Berkeley. But, they only seem to sell them during Christmas, from what I gathered from the various clerks. They sell wintry scenes that he painted. So I didn’t find any of his stuff during my summer in Berkeley. However, five years ago, when I was working in Maryland, I went on a work trip to California during the summer, and during that trip, my boss and I drove to Davis, California, just to visit and explore. We chanced to visit some stationary stores at which I found tons of Carl Larsson stuff. I only bought one thing (a set of greeting cards) at that time and I’d always yearned to go back and get more. Davis is only one hour from Berkeley by train, and the train comes pretty frequently for US standards. So towards the end of my summer at WIRED, I biked to the Berkeley train station, bought a ticket, and hopped on the Davis-bound train. I didn’t remember the name of the Davis stationary store, so I just went to all of them, and as soon as I stepped into the one called “Newsbeat,” something felt familiar! It was the same store I’d been in 5 years before. However, they didn’t have any Carl Larsson greeting cards this summer. They did have a calendar of Larsson paintings, and a pack of postcards! So the hunt after all that was very fun, and I went back and examined the cards I’d bought 5 years ago. The company making them is called “Pomegranate.” I went on their site and lo and behold, they have 16 different Carl Larsson items features 🙂

Update: I went to Berkeley in December, 2019, for a conference. There was NO sign of any Carl Larsson cards anywhere to be found, in any of the stationary stores I revisited, contrary to what they’d promised. And I was there for less than a week, so I did not get a chance to take the train to Davis and visit Newsbeat again.

3. The Swedish couple at Golden Gate Park: I wrote before about the sad lack of Swedish tourists I found in San Francisco this summer. But on my second to last Friday, I went to the Golden Gate Park and the Pacific Ocean. While walking near the Botanical Gardens, I kept passing and re-passing a middle-aged couple who looked American (all three of us were kind of lost). The only reason I got interested in them was because even when I was only 3 feet away, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I couldn’t even hear indistinct murmurs of what they were saying. When people talk softly like that, there’s a chance they are Swedish. But I put it out of my mind until I overtook them, and as finally the direction of their mouths was directly towards my ears (and maybe the air currents were trending my way, too) I heard actual words from them, and yes, they were Swedish. I wanted to stick close to them after that, but you sadly can’t do things like that without exciting suspicion.

4. Swedish books at the library: they have 2 Pippi Longstocking chapter books in the kids’ section of the Berkeley Central Public library; and other Astrid Lindgren books besides. They also had a book from back in the day by a guy called Hjalmer Söderberg, which I didn’t really like and is in my list of books, and they had other Swedish books besides that, too.

5. Swedish lady at the Farmer’s Market: This is a farmer’s market that takes place along Shattuck Street, near the CVS and Safeway, on Thursday afternoons. A lady at one of the booths was offering crackers. She said her Swedish partner, who was away for the month in Sweden, made them by hand according to some traditional recipe. The crackers were really good.

6. Swedish consulate: This is very near Ghirardelli Square and the curvy Lombard Street. It’s on a hill overlooking the water. It’s a snow-white, quaint and stately building with a large ship’s anchor out front. It’s got a very nice flag outside, and I don’t mean the Norwegian or Danish ones.


(The view from the side of the snow-white building.)

Places to visit in Berkeley

1. Climb the hill to the Lawrence Hall of Science. This hill is shrouded in forest, and lanes criss-cross them here and there, lined with fancy houses. It’s to the east of Berkeley. One Sunday afternoon, I followed the labyrinth of streets all the way to the top. It is pretty steep, but not too terrible. Someone told me not to do it at night, because there are just a few spots when the roads are a little isolated, and people have gotten mugged in the dark apparently. But I reached the peak, and the last little bit was not walking on the roads at all; it was on the bare, sandy slope of the hill, with powerful gasps of delicious sagebrush everywhere. And little lizards slithering eeeverywhere. And a view of Berkeley, Oakland, the bridges, the Bay, and San Francisco’s skyscrapers to the west, in glorious sunshine. At the very top of the hill, you can either go into the museum (I think it’s a museum); or you can just sit and take in the view. I went at the end of July, and there were several juicy blackberry patches along my path by the stands of forest.


(The bees like it a lot, too.)

2. Bike along the Berkeley seashore. It is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever been, especially if you go in late afternoon, before the sun is really setting, but when it’s already angled in the sky and the light is especially golden and dreamy. If you bike along to a particular spit of land, past a marina building and the Cesar Chavez park, you find yourself suddenly swept up in a sea of yellow flowers, sitting atop long green stalks taller than I gently swaying in the wind. I think those flowers are called fennel. If you keep biking, you break out of the fennel and when it’s quite behind you and only the sea is before you, you can see Oakland, the Oakland Bridge, the tall dragon-monsters that are the electric power supplies; you can see the misty blue hills far away across the water; you can a tiny speck of skyscrapers wrapped in fog, which is San Francisco; and you see just a thread of a bridge that I think was the Golden Gate.

3. All the stationary stores. There are many and they are fine! My very favorite was Payn’s Stationary Store, which was on a cute street not far from a second-hand bookstore. I bought stickers, letter-writing paper, and something called “bokmärken” there, and if I lived in Berkeley forever, I would probably go back every month, at least. Another nice stationary store was Twig and Fig, but that one is shutting down. And a third stationary store was by the Amtrak station—on another cute street right by the Anthropologie clothing store. I browsed in that one, and I ended up buying four packs of pretty colored envelops. On the same street was another stationary store called Castle in the Air. That was also pretty nice, though it wasn’t really a stationary store, despite what Google says. I did buy some stickers there. You can get to another wonderful stationary store called Newsbeat if you keep walking to the Amtrak station, wait for one of the frequent trains, and take the hour trip to Davis, California. It’s definitely worth doing at least once. One final stationary/book store to mention is Half-price books. The prices really are great! I bought 2 sets of beautiful notecards, and they were like $4 and $5. And there were tons to choose from. Half-price books is right next to the BART train station—so in downtown Berkeley near the university.


All the tourists in San Francisco

It’s been fun people-watching all the tourists around San Francisco. There’s not many around WIRED’s office in the financial district, but once you go towards the wharf and the water and the Golden Gate Bridge, they’re everywhere.

I think the most I’ve seen is Germans. Sometimes you’re walking along, and you just go from one German family to another, the parents gripping the hands of 2-3 kids.

Then, there’s a lot of French people, and some Spaniards. There’s also a lot of people from Asia but I don’t know enough to tell what country.

But of course I had my eyes peeled for anyone from Sweden. To my chagrin, I haven’t had a 100% match 😦 I passed some people I thought might be Swedish; but either I was biking past, and couldn’t very well slam on the brakes, extend my ears, and listen closer; or they just weren’t talking as I passed them on the sidewalk.

The only one I was pretty sure about was a couple, maybe in their 50s, one bald and the other with frizzy hair, who were wandering around the financial district as I left work for the day. They were pointing out skyscrapers to each other or something. But after all, I only heard them for about 2 seconds.

Sadly, I think I’ve run into more Norwegians and Danes. Well, with the Danes it’s tricky. One second it sounds Danish, one second it sounds German.

But there’s been two groups of Norwegians I can confirm:

First, at the end of my second week here, I decided it was high time for me to poke a bit around San Francisco, so I went walking like 5 miles along the water until I got to  Ghirardelli Square and the little sand beach there. Then, I walked up the streets into the mansion-thronged hills, and I swear I didn’t do this on purpose, but I came across some footpaths, some wind-bleached staircases set right into the hillside and away from the cars; the dwellings became fancier and fancier and all of a sudden, a snow-white building arose before me with a giant black ship anchor planted in the tiny grassy lawn. It’s the Swedish-Norwegian-Danish consulate. So I stood there for a while, and then as I continued farther up the hill, there was a lady with two teenaged kids, one boy and one girl. They were all talking, and it was definitely one of the Scandinavian languages; and it was not Swedish; and I decided afterwards that it must have been Norwegian, not Danish. I had to give them a nice big smile, and the mom, who was looking a little harassed, stopped, and said, “excuse me, could I ask you a question?”

My dear lady, you may ask me a hundred questions. But all she wanted to know was: “Do you know if there’s anything to eat around here?” And she pointed down the hill I’d just walked up.

Unfortunately, I had no idea at all, and I hadn’t seen anything on my way except a pizza place – maybe. I stammered something out along those lines, wished them luck, and we passed.

The second group of Norwegians I’ve run into now 3 times – they get on at the Berkeley train stop, which is one stop after me. I see them if I catch the 8:07 am train and board the first or second car. They are not tourists; they must be here for the summer just like me, or maybe even longer. The first time this happened was in my second week. Four of them got on – two guys and two girls. It was a crowded car, and everyone was quiet, except these four going on endlessly in Norwegian, they really needed to announce to everyone that they were foreigners and they were new and that they were having a very good and exciting time. Especially the biggest guy, every time the train slowed to a stop and was the quietest of all, he would crack a joke which I’m sure wasn’t funny, but nevertheless set all four into howls of mirth. Ha ha.

Then I saw them again two weeks ago, but this time, just a girl and the smaller guy. They talked the whole time, too. The girl is very distinctive because she has bleach-blonde hair which she ties back with a thick black bow and then also wears all black, so you know the contrast is kind of hard on the eyes.

Then last week, I was standing there against the train wall – all the seats being taken as usual, and at the Berkeley stop, this time both girls got on. And in a new twist, they stood right in the empty place next to me. But don’t worry, I didn’t do anything to alarm them,  I don’t think. I just stood there and tried to work out what they were saying. I didn’t make it too far, though, because I only seem to understand filler talk in Norwegian: “did you know”, “it’s absolutely true,” “and I felt…” So I don’t much get to the meat of the matter.

I have passed the Swedish-Norwegian-Danish consulate a second time now. It was open, so the flags were all flying out front, and there was a family walking up the hill towards me as I came down towards them, just a man and woman, faces very pink from the exertion and smiling very widely – I think because of the Norwegian flag that comes out the side of the building at the entrance to the Norwegian seamen’s association, or something. But it makes me made because it is the same entrance used for the Swedish church, so why on earth is there no Swedish flag coming out the side?

Then when I got closer to the consulate, there was another family there, this time with two kids. And I don’t know if they have a special pass or something, but when I looked back again, this time they were up on the balcony of the consulate. Right from where the flagpoles rise up. You can believe I felt left out. Is everyone allowed to do that?